June is PRIDE month and as part of us wanting to learn more about the complexities of LGBTQIA+ mental health, Finn sat down with mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin MBE for an IGTV Live on our Positive Planner Instagram account. He discussed what it was like growing up gay in a Jewish family. You can catch the video here if you missed it.
But being gay and Jewish isn’t all there is to Jonny’s story. His experience of growing up with a mental health condition has made him passionate about campaigning for better mental health for our children and schools. His passion runs so deep that he founded BEYOND, a British grant-giving mental health charity that truly makes a difference to the mental health of young people up and down the UK. We know how important the issue of youth mental health is and asked Jonny to give us a bit more info on why he founded BEYOND, what the charity does and how it’s helping young people in the UK.
Growing up with a mental health condition
My parents first took me to see a psychologist when I was 5 years old. I had stopped sleeping properly and become both isolated and anxious.
Whilst I don’t remember much of my sessions with the psychologist, I do remember the secrecy surrounding it. I come from a conservative Jewish community and we didn’t talk about mental health at all when I was growing up. I didn’t even understand what the term really meant even though I was struggling with my own wellbeing.
My mental health challenges truly manifested in my mid-teens. I was suffering with depression and hallucinations, as well as struggling with my sexuality. Eventually I had a breakdown and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. I was hospitalised but eventually ran away and attempted to take my own life. It was a horrendous time for me, and of course my loved ones too.
It shouldn't have to be so hard
The journey to learn to finally manage my mental health was long and arduous. Now at the age of 34, I am finally in a much better place, although I’m still prone to relapses. However, I am convinced the path which I, and so many others, have travelled, didn’t need to be this tough. If I had had some sort of mental health education at school, I believe things would have been very different indeed.
This is the reason I created my youth mental health charity, Beyond, in 2018.
What is BEYOND?
We are a UK-based charity led by an incredible group of young people, all of whom have also struggled with their mental health, and are passionate about changing the system. We want to see wellbeing made a priority within education, especially after the traumatic events of the past year.
BEYOND: Campaigning for youth mental health
Earlier in 2021, during Children’s Mental Health Week, we created the UK’s first ever mental health festival for schools and colleges. It was a huge success. We had over 1200 educational settings take part. However, this alone simply wasn’t enough.
For too long, focussing on mental health has been a ‘tick-box exercise’ for too many schools, colleges, universities and workplaces too. I can’t count the number of times I have been into schools to talk to pupils about wellbeing and been told that that is “mental health covered for the students.”
As an organisation, we want to see wellbeing at the heart of school life. To do this, we’re currently working to raise half a million pounds to provide schools and colleges with urgent mental health provision. This short video will give you an idea of what young people are going through and also what they think needs to be done:
Schools and young people are at breaking point
In the UK, 75 percent of young people with a mental illness do not receive the help and support they need (Young Minds). Most tragically of all, over 200 school children take their own lives across the country every single year (Papyrus). We have to act now and make a difference. And if this wasn’t enough, CAMHS (the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) recently saw their highest ever number of referrals. They were already struggling to cope to meet the weight of pre-pandemic demand. Now they are at breaking point.
No young person should have to suffer with their mental health without the help and support they need. It would never happen to a child who was suffering with cancer or any other physical illness.
Donate to BEYOND
If you are able to lend us your support to help ensure immediate mental health provision is available for our schools and colleges, we would be extremely grateful.
We have an opportunity to make a real difference to young people with mental illness. But we cannot do it alone. Please help us to help the next generation live more mentally healthy lives. Thank you for your support.
To donate to BEYOND'S fantastic #brakethesystem campaign click here.